Saturdays at the hospital are filled with empty spaces. It begins outside, in the almost empty parking lots, the same parking lots that on weekday mornings are filled to capacity, now populated by only a handful of cars parked close to the entrances to buildings like scattered leaves blown against a doorstop.
Inside, the emptiness fills hallways and corridors that during the week are consumed by wheeled activity, nurses or attendants pushing gurneys or wheelchairs, doctors and surgeons in lab coats with heads buried in clipboards. Rooms are filled with patients, both out and in. On Saturdays, beyond the walls of the emergency ward, there are no out patients.
In late morning the visitors start trickling in, friends and family, mothers and wives, fathers and husbands, siblings and in-laws. A little bit nervous at first, not knowing what to expect, they cling a little bit closer to each other than they normally would as they walk down the halls, bearing gifts, flowers and balloons or books, peeking into each room at the living story lying in each bed, hoping for a spark of recognition, until they reach the room they came for. As they enter the doorway they suck in their breath and force a smile on their faces, and finally they are standing face to face with their loved one, broken and hurting and healing. They make nervous small talk and stand in uncomfortable poses next to the bed. Time ticks on as they talk about shared interests, while husbands or wives grow impatient and glance at their wristwatches or cell phones, thinking about the game they are missing or the lawn that needs mowing, any of the things that they worked so hard all week for. They feel it all slipping away as their spouse drones on and on, telling the patient how good he looks and how much he is missed at home and how easy he’s going to have to take it after he gets out.
Then, in late afternoon and early evening, the visitors are gone, and the patients are left alone. The flowers and the cards and the books are all put away, and nurses make their rounds, dispensing meds or serving dinner. This is the time for rest, and as the sun descends, weariness and fatigue set in, and sleep comes.
But just before sleep, in the lengthening shadows cast through the windows by the setting sun, their presence is felt, like a cold shiver down the spine. This is their time, and for the half hour between daylight and night, they move freely and unapologetically. You can see them, standing behind opened doors in darkening corners, floating on the air pushed through floor vents by furnaces or air conditioners. You can hear their murmurs between the rhythmic beeping and humming of monitors and machines, the voices of the others, the ones who came here and never left.